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Retailers’ true attitude to customers

The Covid-19 crisis has revealed a lot about how different retailers treat their customers. There has inevitably been a lot of disruption. Most have suffered having been forced to close their shops. Many have had to significantly alter the way they operate, moving from in-store to online click and collect or deliver. Some, mainly food retailers, are experiencing boom time with consumers seemingly still (as of 27 April) stockpiling.

Retailers have handled the transition to a different way of operating with varying degrees of success. Tesco has handled itself in the crisis very well. It imposed strict social distancing rules early doors and went on air to very clearly advertise the new rules through a compelling campaign using actual staff. Others have not been so good.

Take Ocado, the first major online food retailer, whose existing business model is ideally suited to the coronavirus retail environment. I’ve shopped with Ocado for many years and pay the annual fee for unlimited number of deliveries. As the crisis began to emerge I went on to the Ocado app to place a regular order and found I couldn’t get a delivery slot for four days. I thought it must be a glitch in their website, not realising that panic stockpiling had already set in. Being someone who hates queuing I couldn’t get on to the site for weeks. Did I receive any communication from Ocado? – no. In their headlong rush to recruit new customers they ignored their existing customers. As soon as they realised what was happening they should have emailed their long-term customers, giving them priority on booking a weekly delivery slot.

Viking Direct, another online retailer, with oodles of experience of fulfilling orders remotely, has performed no better than Ocado. I placed an order, as I do about once every 3 months, at least a week before Covid-19 took hold. I received all items ordered in the normal timeframe, except one. I received no notification that one item was missing, nor was given an apology. After a week of silence I contacted Customer Service, had a reply saying that it was being investigated then heard nothing. Two weeks later I contacted Customer Service again and a few days later was told that supplies of some products were hard to get because of coronavirus.

B&Q have been offering a click & collect service for years. The company has closed many of its stores to shoppers, moving them over exclusively to click & collect. Now, you would think their click & collect operation would be pretty slick. Judging by the numerous complaints online my own experience is not a one-off. Placed an order on Sunday, told it would be 2-3 days. After 4 days hadn’t heard anything. Eventually, a week after placing the order, I was notified it was ready to collect. The only apology I have had was a standard one I found on the website.

Now, there’s no doubt these are challenging times and the three companies I’ve mentioned are all fundamentally good companies but they have failed to pursue best customer practice during this crisis.

Four key lessons can be learnt by all companies from these examples:

1. Communicate quickly and clearly

2. Don’t blame a third party

3. Think of your existing customers first

4. If you’re going to do something do it well

A crisis should not affect the way a company treats its customers, it is not an excuse to not treat them well.

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